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January 14, 2011

Solar Love

Figure A

If meager U.S. employment news keep ruining your day, you should turn to the Solar Foundation's 2010 jobs census report (pdf) -– the first formal attempt at quantifying the current state of the industry -- for reassurance.

The report, which crunched the numbers running through August, found that the number of solar-industry workers was pushing 100,000, about double the number from the previous year. "Solar job growth over the next 12 months is anticipated to be 26 percent, representing nearly 24,000 net new jobs," the report states. "This expected growth rate is significantly higher than the U.S. economy-wide expectation of 2 percent growth."

SolarCity is an example of a solar company that is enjoying ample growth. Located in the Bay Area, Calif., it just moved its corporate headquarters into a bigger building to accommodate its growing number of staff. The company, which specializes in offering affordable solar leases, installation, and energy audits, announced last week that it is now offering leases in Oregon (in addition to serving California, Arizona, Colorado, and Texas). It plans to expand to the East Coast in the coming months.

Solarinstallation"We do all the permitting, design, and installation," SolarCity's Juan Aguayo, director of employee relations, told me in a phone interview. "We hire a lot of candidates with construction background in either electric, roofing, framing. Even if they have solar experience when they come out of a local college program, they still go through an extensive in-house training program."

SolarCity went from 450 employees in January 2010 to more than 950 today. It plans to double its workforce in 2011 as it expands services. "Wherever we are, we hire locally," Aguayo said.

Other solar companies, such as SunRun and Sungevity -- the latter also intends to tackle the East Coast this year -- are expecting big years. This past year, "the [solar] sector raised 90 percent more capital than in 2009, jumping from $1.2 billion to $2.3 billion, as seven companies broke the $100 million barrier in funding rounds," according to this new report (pdf) by Peachtree Capital Advisors.

Positive news on renewable energy as a whole is commonplace these days. For wind, 2010 was great, but not as great as '09; and the U.S. lags behind Europe and China. Some investors remain cautious. But all and all, solar and wind had a strong year. And perhaps the best indicator is the uptick in rantings from fossil-fuel talking heads in the media (see here and here). The more vocal and nervous they get, the better.

-- Brian Foley



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